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Change the world


As universities work towards transforming their curricula, culture and other aspects foregrounded by the #FeesMustFall movement, along with global shifts in higher education, there is an urgent need for high level administrators able to respond to such changes, writes Nicky Willemse.

In pursuit of finding the best leaders and game-changers on the road to transformation, Nelson Mandela University – in partnership with the University of Bath in England, and with funding from the Department of Higher Education and Training – is running South Africa’s first Doctor of Business Administration in Higher Education Management (DBA-HEM), with a student component comprising over 50 senior managers from 25 of the country’s 26 universities.

Among them is Mandela University’s Eunice “Champ” Champion, an Academic Staff Development Professional from the Centre for Teaching and Learning and Media (CTLM), who joined the DBA programme “to be exposed to the latest global trends and knowledge … and empowered to deal with the latest issues in the higher education arena”. Says Champion: “Globally, higher education is operating in a complex environment. There are expectations that higher education [should] improve access and student experience [and] increase performance and accountability, while [also] keeping pace with the dynamic changes of information and technology and preparing students for work [in a world] where employment patterns are changing drastically.

“These challenges and changes make the higher education landscape fluid and unpredictable.”

Champion, who joined the programme in 2016 among the first of two cohorts of students, says the new DBA-HEM had equipped her with the mechanisms to respond to these challenges as a “reflexive transformative leader, willing and able to lead in a complex environment”. The DBA-HEM is conducted online and via four weeklong contact sessions – two delivered at the University of Bath and two delivered at Nelson Mandela University – which include: globalisation and higher education (HE) strategy, HE policy and management, HE and organisational change, and methods and methodology for HE research. “The DBA-HEM is playing a key role in developing management capacity in the higher education sector in South Africa,” explains Nelson Mandela University’s Dean of Teaching and Learning, Prof Cheryl Foxcroft. “The curriculum consists of core material taught on the DBA global programmes, but also includes specially designed sessions responding to local issues facing higher education in South Africa,” she says. “The contact-session programmes also feature teambuilding and social events, which are particularly important in the South African programme to develop networks of leaders within the country. Both cohorts maintain active discussions between contact sessions via social media, and students have also organised interim webinars to discuss their assignments.”

The students are required to submit a thesis. For this, Champion has chosen to focus on looking at the students’ lived experiences regarding the assessment of their learning in the higher education context. She chose this topic because she is “working with the academics on transforming their assessment practices.

The students’ lived experiences will inform us about how to transform the assessment practice in a way that will be relevant and responsive to the students’ needs and higher education experience.”

According to Prof Rajani Naidoo, Chair in Higher Education in the University of Bath School of Management and Director of the International Centre for Higher Education Management, universities worldwide “are facing great challenges … They are expected to contribute to science and social innovation and to solve some of the world’s greatest problems in a context where there are fewer resources and a changing student population. We need a new type of leader who is able to respond to such changes.

The South African participants bring in a wealth of expertise and it is a privilege to work with Nelson Mandela University.” The offering of the DBA-HEM programme to South African students was made possible due to R34m received in two tranches from a Teaching Development Grant, awarded to Mandela University by the DHET.

In addition to the DBA-HEM, the university is exploring the possibility of working with the University of Bath to jointly develop and deliver a master’s degree in Higher Education Management. Planning for this will begin later this year.

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Ms Zandile Mbabela
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